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Island-hopping around the Finnish archipelago

Finland has much more to offer than winter activities, Santa and the northern lights, including island-hopping around the Finnish archipelago

TRFBLI
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Island-hopping around the Finnish archipelago

As I ease around the inlet into open water, the Archipelago Sea teasingly reveals its sweeping majesty framed by the smooth, tree-topped granite outcrops of the shoreline. Meanwhile, supercharged by the midsummer sun, the implausibly clear blue water twinkles as it dances off my kayak’s paddles.


Summer is a magical time in south-west Finland, the powerfully primal midnight sun urging you to get active outdoors and gorge on seasonal produce with the nature-loving locals. The sun hardly sets between May and August and, for those who venture north of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at all during those months, allowing plenty more time to enjoy the great outdoors.


As Andrea Godfrey, product manager at Regent Holidays, remarks: “Visitors can make the most of the extra hours of daylight to explore the pristine environments, wild forests and idyllic landscapes of rolling hills.”

HITTING THE TRAIL

My tranquil sea kayak tour with experts Aavameri proves a hearty appetiser for my exploration of the Archipelago Trail, a 100km journey that begins in sleepy Turku, unrecognisable as a former capital. Here, summer’s rays and endless days draw locals to laze by its Aura river as I beat a pilgrim’s path to the celebrated restaurants lining its banks.


Opting to stay out of town, I bypass Naantali, the region’s self-proclaimed holiday capital,
 to stay at the nearby Ruissalo Spa. Though
 an uninspiring property in itself, the Ruissalo makes the most of its setting, enveloped by forest trails and a delightful stretch of water that supports seasonal excursions such as midnight sun boat trips on the Baltic Sea (£73pp; 1 June-15 August).


Finally striking out on the Archipelago Trail,
I find the free yellow ferries and gently rolling landscape make for easy touring and discover many roadside reasons to linger, from Sattmark Kaffe’s healthfully hearty dining to hikes and bike rentals. Based around an old fishermen’s village, the quirky Mama’s Pocket delivers another highlight with its traditional smoke saunas.


Grabbing an overnight Viking Line ship from Turku, I sail on to Mariehamn, the Russian- founded capital of the Aland Islands, with their intriguing mix of Swedish and Finnish influences.


Many of Mariehamn’s attractions are linked 
to the sea, such as its historic Maritime quarter and Maritime Museum, where I tour the recently renovated tall ship, Pommern.


The Alands comprise thousands of islands and islets. Only 60 are inhabited year round, however, backed by homely guesthouses such as Kvarnbo and Bjornhofvda, and excellent gastronomy served up by local institutions such as Vasterro, Smakbyn and the Stallhagen microbrewery, where the ales take centre stage during a highly enjoyable pairing dinner.


Bridges link the main islands but for others you must take to the sea. I reach teeny-tiny Koba Kittila on a small boat from Mariehamn, exploring the weather-ravaged outcrop’s historic Pilot Station and art installations before demolishing an enormous custard and jam doughnut at the cosy cafe.


Savouring the edge-of-the-world-like location, I reflect how arriving by boat feels almost like cheating, my last visit having involved an eventful kayak trip, bouncing around on the waves as enormous ferries loomed overhead.

Trail's end

Essential information

Getting there: Wizz Air began flying direct from Luton to Turku in July. Clients can also fly to Helsinki with Finnair. From the capital, it’s a two-hour drive to Turku.

 

When to go: The summer season starts from May to September.


Time difference: +3 GMT.


 

Sell it: Operators with summer Finland programmes include Regent Holidays and Best Served Scandinavia.

 

Ending my trip in Helsinki having taken another overnight ship (this time with Tallink from Mariehamn), I’m immediately bowled over by the compact capital’s open-air sea pool, Allas,
a new addition since my last visit.
I also discover the Helsinkians’ obsession with getting steamy continues apace, with Uusi and Loyly among the popular new sauna additions. Many of the guest rooms at the city’s new Lapland Hotel Bulevardi feature private saunas too.


The Archipelago Trail, meanwhile, has proven itself to be a sure-fire crowd pleaser, a roadmap for scenic summer self-drives backed by all manner of active options and child-friendly attractions, including BMX park Kupittaa, eco- adventure theme park Flowpark and Moomin World. A longer, 250km version is possible during summer too, thanks to the seasonal ferry schedule, with the recently launched Coastal Trail among the other alternatives.


So yes, whisper it: Finland is not just for Christmas – it’s a year-round sell. Indeed, many of the country’s classic winter products also work really well in summer, from husky and reindeer farm visits to ‘Aurora Dome’ stays, all of which make an appearance on Regent Holidays’ four- day Glamping Adventures Under the Midnight Sun (priced from £895pp).


It’s hard to beat the Finnish Archipelago in summer. But don’t just take my word for it. Kirsi Jokela, product and trade sales manager at Best Served Scandinavia, tells me: “Saunas, medieval wonders and a gorgeous natural world await
[in the Turku Archipelago], and island-hopping relaxation under the midnight sun has never been closer. It’s Finland’s best-kept secret.”

 

BOOK IT: Best Served Scandinavia’s tailor-made six-day Turku Archipelago: Island-hopping self-drive starts from £995pp including flights.


best-served.co.uk

Smarter, better, fairer

Smarter: Help clients get
the lowdown on Turku’s gastro revolution with a Food Walk card, offering discounted samplings
at 5 of 10 featured eateries (£40; visitturku.fi/foodwalk).


Better: On Sviskar in the Aland Islands, you can book clients
the whole island to themselves (silverskar.ax/en). Also consider coinciding visits with midsummer celebrations, taking place on 20 June next year. Hotspots include Eckero in the Alands.


Fairer: Finland is one of theworld’s most clean-living destinations
 and initiatives such as Helsinki’s Think Sustainably help visitors reduce their environmental impact (myhelsinki.fi/en/think-sustainably).

TRFBLI
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